With a Hitch

When I was in my twenties, I drove a car called a Dodge Colt Vista. It was made in the 80’s and it was a long, boxy minivan (though no one used that term back then) with three rows of seats. Mine was white, so my friends called it “The Ice Cube.” Not a very cool nickname for a car, but I could fit seven people comfortably (we got nine in once, with a couple squished on the floor), and I could easily fit all my drums in it with the seats folded down, so it was cool enough for me.

I bought The Ice Cube used, and it came with a trailer hitch on the back from the previous owners. A few years into owning the car, I met this guy named Benny. Benny was one of those people who thought they could manipulate you into doing what they wanted without you knowing it, but it was really super obvious because every aspect of his personality changed when he went into that mode. It was like he thought he was such a master manipulator that his pride would ooze out, so the mix of oozing pride and overly slimy false interest was his tell. He was The Blob of personality disorders.

One day, Benny started asking me all these questions about my band. You know somebody wants something from you when they start acting all interested in your band. When that was over, he said, “Hey, I just happened to notice that hitch on the back of your car.” Ah! It turned out he owned a boat that he wanted driven across the state, from where it was docked, to his house for the winter.

Benny asked me if I wouldn’t mind either doing this for him - for free - or if I’d consider Option B, which was loaning him my car so he could drive his boat back himself. I barely knew the guy, and this is what he asked me. I’ve never hooked up a car hitch, but it’s got to be easier to do that than to convince someone who already has a hitch installed to give you their car for your boat-hauling needs.

I told Benny about the cracked engine. “Well, that’s not a problem! What you do is, you go to a junkyard, and you buy yourself an engine.” (yes, he simplified Step 1 that much) “Then when you get it home, you get a case of beer and invite a few buddies over to put it into your car on a Saturday afternoon!”
What Benny didn’t know was that The Ice Cube was on its last legs at this point. It hadn’t felt right, and when I had a mechanic check it out, he said the bottom half of the engine had a crack in it, and the cost of a new engine plus the labor of replacing it would cost more than the car was worth. So I was just driving the car short distances, biding my time until it died and saving up money for a new one.

I told Benny about the cracked engine, thinking this was my way out of his inappropriate favor request. But instead of the “that’s too bad” response I expected from him, he got this big smile on his face. “Well, that’s not a problem! What you do is, you go to a junkyard, and you buy yourself an engine.” (yes, he simplified Step 1 that much) “Then when you get it home, you get a case of beer and invite a few buddies over to put it into your car on a Saturday afternoon!”

My first thought was that he was missing some critical steps. For starters, I’m not handy with cars. The first time the oil ran low in a previous car, I filled it all the way, not even seeing that “fill line”. White smoke came out of the engine while I was driving it, and I had to pull over to drain the oil. So that was an issue.

Another potential roadblock was sourcing the part. These were very early internet days, but I was supposed to locate a reliable and local junkyard, and then find an engine that’s compatible with my car. I’ve gone to the store and bought screws that weren’t right for my wall. Isn’t it pretty likely that me, with no real auto repair knowledge, just might buy the wrong kind of engine? I mean, it’s the engine. And what if something’s wrong with it? Do junkyards take returns?

So then, somehow assuming I get the right kind of engine and it’s in working order, I’m going to have to get the it home. I’m guessing it won’t fit in my passenger seat. I’m sure I could get in the back of The Ice Cube, but remember, the reason I needed the new engine in the first place is because the current one was faulty. Loading up a heavy engine did not seem like a wise choice. You know who they don’t get to fly the chopper containing the new heart to the hospital when someone desperately needs an organ donation? The guy who needs that heart. They just have him sit on a gurney and wait it out. It tends to work out better that way.

And then my crew. Am I supposed to be the one who leads this team of beer-filled friends in getting the old engine out and the new one in? Not likely. Or maybe I should invite friends who know how to do this - but I don’t really know many guys with engine-replacing knowledge. Except one who’s a mechanic - but from what I know about him, alcohol isn’t one of his accepted forms of payment. So I’d be inviting people over to help who had about the same amount of car knowledge that I had, and that did not seem like a recipe for success.

I wondered why people like Benny try to simplify things that aren’t anywhere close to simple? This guy was a computer programmer, and I’d never heard him talking about working on his own vehicles, so I’m guessing he didn’t have too many car engine-replacements under his belt, either. He was a backseat car-fixer.

I never wound up helping Benny, and I never wound up replacing the engine, either. One day it just shot all its cooling fluids through the front grill while I was driving and instantly stopped driving forever. The Ice Cube exploded in its own inverse version of a Viking Funeral.